By Edwin Makiche
Party loyalty has towered above all other factors in the contest for Kericho County governor, with all six aspirants seeking a single party’s nomination.
William Ruto and his United Republican Party have emerged the kingmakers in the contest with every contestant striving to associate with him or his party. URP is the most popular in the region though it’s not the only.
And with the recent declaration by ODM’s Franklin Bett that he will not contest any elective position in the March 4 General Election, focus is on who will clinch the URP ticket during party primaries in two weeks’ time.
Bett, who has stuck with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange party in defiance of the Ruto and URP wave, had been expected to vie for the post but dropped out a fortnight ago. He was appointed to chair ODM’s National Elections Board.
Six aspirants are now battling it out for the URP ticket. They are former Belgut MP Charles Kirui, Prof Paul Chepkwony (a former Moi University lecturer), Sammy Chepkwony (a private sector player), a former deputy chairman of Tea Board of Kenya Jonah Keter and Joel Sigei, a career provincial administrator.
However, with Parliament reviewing the electoral law to extend the party-hopping window to January 18, it remains to be seen whether those floored during URP nominations will jump to other parties. There has been protests about whether the exercise will be free and fair.
Ruto is arguably the towering figure in the region’s politics, which is largely inhabited by the Kipsigis community, a populous sub-tribe of the Kalenjin ethnic group.
The community has been voting as a bloc, as exhibited during the 2007 elections when it overwhelmingly voted for ODM and its then presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
The rivalry between Raila and his former deputy, Ruto, is expected to influence the contest. Raila is Cord alliance presidential candidate while Ruto is running for deputy President in a joint ticket with Deputy Premier Uhuru Kenyatta (the Jubilee alliance presidential candidate).
The manner in which URP nominations will be conducted, however, remains a concern among the aspirants and by extension the populace. Initially, there were complaints some senior politicians and aspirants were keen to rig out their rivals in the nomination and were registering their supporters and locking out perceived rivals’.
Some aspirants complained despite most of their supporters registering in the party their names could not appear in the party database.
The issue, however, seems to have been addressed amicably after the party reversed its earlier requirements and resolved to use IEBC voter register during the nominations.
Political pundits, however, say the coast is not all clear for URP. They say if the party blunders during the nominations, other parties like United Democratic Movement (UDM) led by Gen (rtd) John Koech and Biwott’s National Vision Party may reap from the mess.
The race for governorship also revolves around issues such as infrastructure development, tea, job creation and the issue of the Talai community, which has been squatting in Kericho since independence.
The county is one of the leading tea producing and exporting in the country and is home to various multinational companies and other sector investors. It also has a number of tea factories managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency.
The first county’s CEO is therefore expected to harness its agricultural potential and transform into wealth for the residents.
Prof Chepkwony who has been nicknamed Kiptimbilwet locally is a former Moi university professor of chemistry.
He came into the national lime light during the International Criminal Court pre-trial cases on Kenya’s post-election violence suspects.
At the time, Chepkwony appeared in ICC as the first witness for Radio journalist Joshua arap Sang who is accused for crimes against humanity alongside Ruto.
Political pundits say the date with The Hague bolstered the aspirant’s image and gave him a chance to prove his worth. It also made him a local hero as he used his grasp of the Kalenjin dialect and culture to interpret some of the ‘coded’ messages in the cases.
“His decision to defend Sang and his articulation of issues during the pre-trials showed he is a man ready to stand with the community facing turbulent times,’’ says Robert Rotich, a political commentator.
Chepkwony has been using the issue to endear himself to the voters.
And now with the Jubilee alliance using the pending cases in the ICC to endear themselves to voters, the political commentator says this could add weight to Chepkwony’s candidacy.
But another candidate keen to give Chepkwony a run for his money in clinching the URP ticket is Sammy Chepkwony (not related), a first timer in politics, but with a vast experience in the corporate world having served in senior positions at Kenya Meat Commission and Brooke Bond.
Before he joined politics, Sammy worked as chairman of the Board of Directors at Tea Research Foundation of Kenya, a parastatal under the Ministry of Agriculture.
He is credited with having revived the corporation and made it more responsive to the needs of the farmer.
Speaking to The Standard he said, if elected the first CEO of Kericho County, his major focus would be to improve the living standards of residents through creating income generating ventures.
He says the county, endorsed with vast resources, has lacked focused and transparent leadership for years. He says he would concentrate on value addition for agricultural products, especially tea and pineapples.
“This county needs bold leadership that will not only focus on increasing tea and pineapple production but also making Kericho an industrial hub,’’ he says.
He added that he would use his vast experience in the corporate world to take Kericho to the next level.
Also seeking the URP ticket is Keter, who believes empowering the agricultural sector is the key to making Kericho the leading county.
He says as residents of the county he has seen successive regimes focus on politics rather than improving the livelihoods of the residents. Keter says the county requires a manager as a governor who will transform it into the Biblical Promised Land and attract more investors.
He also believes in opening more doors for youths to invest in sectors like real estate and construction through capital creation.
He is one of the candidates who has taken the battle to the social network and has opened a website where residents can view his policies and chat with him in realtime.
Mr Sigei tried his hand in politics in 2007 where he ran for Kipkelion parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket but lost at the primaries’ level. He now prepares to battle it out with others for the URP ticket for governor.
If elected the first governor of Kericho, Sigei says his focus will be on developing infrastructure and creating an enabling environment for investors.
Mr Kirui, a former Finance assistant minister and a former Kanu supporter also wants the URP ticket.
He served as Belgut MP between 1997-2002 but was ousted by current MP Charles Keter who is his brother in law. A major showdown between the two was expected this year, but it cooled down after Keter declared interest in the senate seat.
A trained accountant, Kirui says his major focus is on infrastructure development. He says, if elected, he would concentrate in developing industries and enhance value addition for the agricultural produce.